the defeat of General Martin Perfecto de Cos at the siege
of San Antonio in December 1835, no Mexican troops remained in Texas.
Texans thought their independence was won, and the majority of the volunteers
who made up the “Army of the People” left service and returned to their families.
Some members of the provisional government were so confident of victory that they
foolishly planned an expedition to capture the Mexican border town of Matamoros.
Texans failed to understand that Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
was enraged over the capture of Captain Tenorio during the disturbances at Anahuac
and the subsequent surrender of General Cos’s at San
Antonio de Bexar. Determined to reestablish Mexican control in Texas, Santa
Anna planned to either kill every Anglo American and Tejano rebel who openly defied
his rule, or drive them across the Sabine
River and out of Texas for good. By the time
General Cos and his men crossed the Rio Grande and reentered Mexico, Santa Anna
was marching north with a large army to meet him.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
that the Mexican army was on the march, the Texans believed that if an attack
was to come at all, Santa Anna would surely wait until spring. As a result, against
the advice of a few men like Sam
Houston, the Texas forces remained unorganized and scattered. To make matters
worse, since the men who contributed to the victory at the siege
of San Antonio had returned to the comforts of home and hearth, newly arrived
volunteers from the United States constituted the majority of Texas troops in
the field. The total lack of preparation would cost the Texans dearly.
1836, there were two main invasion routes from Mexico into Texas;
the Atascosito Road, and the Old
San Antonio Road (also known as the Camino
Real). The Atascosito Road crossed the Rio Grande at Matamoros and ran north
through Goliad and
before continuing on to the Louisiana border. The old
San Antonio Road crossed the Rio Grande at Eagle
Pass, continued northeast to San
Antonio de Bexar, and then on to Nacogdoches,
before entering Louisiana.
Colonel James Walker Fannin commanded
the Texans who occupied the Presidio La Bahia in Goliad.
It was his responsibility to deny the Atascosito Road to the Mexican army. The
forces blocking passage on the old
San Antonio Road, as it passed through Bexar, were commanded by Colonel
James C. Neill. General Santa Anna divided his forces as he moved north, sending
one column under the command of General Jose Urrea up the Atascosito Road,
and taking personal command of the other column on the long march to San
of the Alamo |
printed in 1854 in Gleason's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion
Presidio of La Bahia was well constructed and defensible, but Colonel Neill
realized the Alamo would have to
be strengthened considerably before it could serve as a fortress. With the assistance
of engineer Green B. Jamison, Neill reinforced the crumbling walls of the old
mission and replaced a missing section of wall with a log palisade. Twenty-one
cannons, most of them captured from General Cos after his surrender at the
siege of San Antonio, were them emplaced along the mission’s walls, making
the Alamo the most heavily defended
fortress in western North America.
Neill also requested reinforcements for his meager Bexar garrison, but Sam
Houston, the commander of the Texas army, had begun to question the wisdom
of maintaining the Alamo. Finally,
in mid-January, Houston ordered
Colonel James Bowie to San
Antonio with a company of volunteers to blow up the old mission and remove
all the cannons and munitions to Gonzales.
However, when Bowie arrived in Bexar
on January 19, he was impressed by the efforts of Neill and Jamison to fortify
a result of their hard work, the old mission was beginning to look like a fortress.
Colonel Neill soon convinced Bowie that the
Alamo was the only obstacle on the Camino
Real that stood between the enemy and the Anglo settlements further to the
east, and that it must be defended at all costs. On February 2, Bowie wrote to
Governor Henry Smith that he and Neill had resolved to “die in these ditches”
before they would surrender the Alamo.
realized that if the Alamo were
to function as a blocking position on the Camino
Real, it would have to be reinforced. Colonel Neill would also need cavalry
to act as outriders to give early warning of Santa Anna’s approach. Therefore,
to meet both needs, Smith directed Lt. Col. William B. Travis to take his
“Legion of Cavalry” and report to San
Antonio. However, when only thirty men answered Travis’s call for duty, he
pleaded with Governor Smith to reconsider his order, threatening to resign his
commission rather than stain his reputation with the possibility of failure.
wisely ignored Travis’s threats and, at length, he obeyed the Governor’s orders,
reporting to Bexar on February
3. Though he reported under duress, Travis, like Bowie, soon became committed
to the Alamo as the “key to the
defense of Texas.” David Crockett, a former volunteer colonel and Congressman
from Tennessee, arrived at the Alamo
on February 8, with a dozen men eager to win their own promised share of Texas.
of Davy Crockett|
John Gadsby Chapman
Neill was forced to leave San
Antonio due to a family emergency. He placed Travis, who like Neill
was a member of the regular Texas army, in command. James Bowie, though
older and more experienced, was a volunteer. The decision did not sit well with
Bowie and his men, and they demanded an election of officers, a tradition among
volunteer forces. The decision was split with the volunteers supporting Bowie
and the regulars choosing Travis. After much heated debate, the two men agreed
to set aside their differences and share a joint command. Then less than two weeks
later, Bowie was taken seriously ill and surrendered the command to Travis.
did his best to recruit additional defenders, sending Juan Seguin and James
Butler Bonham to Goliad,
Gonzales, and other communities
across Texas asking for help. A few men arrived, but never in the numbers that
were required to properly defend the
Alamo. Colonel Fannin, the only source of meaningful reinforcement available,
was reluctant to abandon his post at Goliad.
His constant waffling would eventually lead to the meaningless death of most of
Then on February 23, Santa
Anna’s troops arrived in Bexar,
after a brutal winter march across the barren landscape of south
Texas, and the 13-day siege of the
Alamo began. Travis’s appeals for aid suddenly carried more weight. By now
growing desperate for assistance, he penned his famous message that has become
known as the most heroic document in Texas history. The letter began “To the People
of Texas & all Americans in the world — Fellow citizens & compatriots — I am besieged,
by a thousand or more Mexicans under Santa Anna…” and ended “VICTORY OR DEATH.”
William Smith slipped through the Mexican lines and delivered the message
Santa Anna risk his army by attacking the
Alamo instead of bypassing the old mission and marching straight for the heart
of the Anglo settlements further to the east? Such a small garrison would have
posed little threat to his rear. Most historians would argue that he besieged
the old mission and launched his ill-fated assault for political, not military
reasons. The dictator promised the Mexican people that he would sweep the rebels
out of Texas. If he dared to bypass the fortress,
his enemies in Mexico City could claim that he avoided a fight.
courtesy Texas State Library & Archives|
siege of the
began with an artillery bombardment, while the Mexican infantry slowly encircled
the old mission. Travis continued to send messages pleading for reinforcements,
but the only meaningful assistance to arrive came on March
1, when Lt.
George C. Kimbell and his 32-man Gonzales
ranging company rode through the Mexican cordon surrounding the
Alamo and entered the beleaguered mission. Although he was grateful for the
assistance, Travis knew he needed more men if he was to properly defend the
Alamo. He revealed his frustration with the lack of support in a letter to
a friend. “If my countrymen do not rally to my relief, I am determined to perish
in the defense of this place, and my bones shall reproach my country for her neglect.”
By March 5, day 12 of the siege, about
1800 Mexican troops surrounded the Alamo.
The walls of the old mission were crumbling from the constant bombardment, and
no Texan relief column had appeared. To warn the Texans of the fate that awaited
them, Santa Anna’s soldiers raised the red flag, and the band played the “Deguello”,
the cut throat song, traditional symbols of no mercy.
Santa Anna’s Generals
argued against an attack. Why risk the casualties that would surely result from
the Texans’ artillery and accurate fire from their long rifles? Soon the walls
would be down anyway, and the Texans would be forced to surrender. Determined
to make an example of the rebels, Santa Anna ignored these reasonable objections
and ordered an attack for dawn on the morning of March
The exhausted Texans were sleeping when the blare of Mexican
bugles launched the assault. In his diary, Mexican officer Jose Enrique de la
Pena described the beginning of the epic battle: “… a bugle call to attention
was the agreed signal and we soon heard that terrible bugle call of death.” Awakened
by the cry “The Mexicans are coming!” Travis leaped from his bed and ran
to the north wall. He was among the first defenders to die. Texas cannons roared
their defiance, canister shot ripping great holes in the oncoming Mexican lines,
but their overwhelming numbers enabled the Mexicans to reach the
Alamo’s walls in spite of the deadly artillery fire and the constant barking
of the Texas long rifles.
Illustration by Charles A. Stephens
up the scaling ladders into the face of direct fire, the Mexicans burst through
the Texas defenses on the walls and pored into the
Alamo, bayonets eager and ready to deal death. Deadly hand-to-hand fighting
raged throughout the old mission, bayonets against Bowie knives and rifles used
as clubs. Jim Bowie was killed on his sickbed, though some credit him with
fighting even there. By eight o’clock in the morning, not much more than 90 minutes
after the attack began, resistance ceased. The bodies of hundreds of soldiers,
Texan and Mexican alike, lay intermingled in bloody heaps all across the compound.
There is no exact count of casualties suffered during the Battle
of the Alamo. Most historians hold the number at 189 defenders and about
600 Mexican soldiers. Legend had it that David Crockett was among the last
of the Alamo defenders to die, and that he died fighting. However, Jose Enrique
de la Pena wrote in his diary that Crockett and six others were put to death by
order of Santa Anna after they tried to surrender.
State Library & Archives Commission
|Not all the defenders
of the Alamo were Anglo Americans. Nine Tejano defenders also bravely gave
their lives for the cause of Texas independence. Among those spared were Susanna
Dickenson, widow of artillery commander Almeron
Dickenson; their 15-month old daughter, Angelina; and Travis’s
slave, Joe. Santa Anna ordered them released in hopes that they would spread
fear across Texas. |
heroic sacrifice of the Alamo defenders accomplished little of military value.
Some have claimed that the stand provided Sam
Houston with the time he needed to raise and begin to train an army, but Houston
spent most of his time during the 13 day siege at Washington-on-the-Brazos
participating in the Convention of 1836, not with the army. However, the delay
did allow the Texans to form a government and declare their independence; both
necessary steps before any nation would recognize Texas.
Had Santa Anna been permitted to advance straight into the eastern settlements,
he may well have disrupted the proceedings and driven the rebels into Louisiana
before the government was formed.
Musings of history aside, there is one
thing that cannot be denied. The sacrifice of Travis, Bowie, Crockett
and the other gallant defenders of the Alamo united the Texans once and
for all behind the idea of independence, and kindled a righteous wrath of “Remember
the Alamo” that swept the Mexicans off the field at San
Jacinto. Unfortunately, before Santa Anna could be lured to that fateful
plain, a final tragedy was yet to unfold at Presidio La Bahia in Goliad.
January 27, 2012 Column
"A Glimpse of Texas Past"
More Texas | Texas
People | Texas Towns | Columns
by Jeffery Robenalt - Order Here >|
for "Battle of The Alamo"
| Barr, Alwyn (1996),
Black Texans: A History of African Americans in Texas, 1528-1995 (2nd ed.),
Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, ISBN 0-8061-2878-X Barr,
Alwyn (1990), Texans in Revolt" The Battle of San Antonio, 1835, Austin,
TX: University of Texas Press, ISBN 0-292-77042-1 Edmundson,
J.R. (2000), The Alamo Story-From History to Current Conflicts, Plan, TX:
Republic of Texas Press, ISBN 1-55622-678-0 Groneman,
Bill (1996), Eyewitness to the Alamo, Plano, TX: Republic of Texas Press,
ISBN 1-55622-502-4 • Hardin, Stephen L. (1999), Texan Illiad, Austin, TX: University
of Texas Press, ISBN 0-292-73086-1
Hopewell, Clifford (1994), James Bowie Texas Fighting Man: A Biography,
Austin, TX: Eakin Press, ISBN 0-89015-881-9 Meyers,
John (1948), The Alamo, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, ISBN
Tinkle, Lon (1985), 13 Days to Glory: The Siege of the Alamo, College Station,
TX: Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 0-89096-238-3 Todish,
Timothy J.; Todish, Terry; Spring, Ted (1998), Alamo Sourcebook, 1836: A Comprehensive
Guide to the Battle of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution, Austin, TX: Eakin
Press, ISBN 978-1-57168-152-2|
|Book Hotel Here
by Jeffery Robenalt